Third time still wasn’t the charm for Florida vs. Kentucky

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They’ve had three shots at it this season, but Florida still can’t knock out the champs.

All five starters scored in double figures and No. 1 Kentucky could not be taken down on Saturday afternoon, battling with Florida until the end and getting a victory in the SEC tournament semifinal, 74-71.

Much credit goes to Kentucky guard Marquis Teague, who bounced back from a two-point, 0-of-5 shooting night on Friday against LSU to score 15 points and dish out five assists, leading the balanced Wildcat attack.

National Player of the Year candidate Anthony Davis had 15 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks.

Saturday afternoon’s semifinal had a different feel than the two previous meetings between the top two teams in the SEC, which Kentucky had won by an average of 17.5 points per game.

Florida was able to set the tone early by hitting five three-pointers in the first 12 minutes and extending their lead to 10, but Kentucky fought back to take the lead by halftime.

The Gators regained the lead in the second, but again came Kentucky’s signature counterpunch, this coming in the form of a 14-2 run over the span of seven minutes, that helped them take the lead for good.

This is how the Wildcats live dangerously. It may not be as risky as others, considering their ability to turn to a steep deficit into a sizeable lead in a flash, but the questions begs to be asked, how does one beat Kentucky?

Florida’s first half formula might be part of it.

Kentucky’s length is the great equalizer, eating guards in the lane and changing the dynamic of a team’s usually high-powered offense.

When Florida was able to hit from the outside, it rendered Kentucky’s length less effective. From beyond the arc, the long arms of Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones don’t grind offensive production to a halt.

As Kentucky came off the ropes for the final stretch of the second half, forcing turnovers and keeping Florida from hitting shots, the Kentucky clamps came down hard and the Wildcats recovered. Some team needs to find a way to slip out of that seemingly inevitable late-game grip.

John Calipari’s team moves on to the finals to meet the winner of Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_